Biodegradability Testing – undertaking the correct testing methods

Biodegradability Testing – undertaking the correct testing methods

The need for biodegradability testing – understanding the importance of undertaking the correct testing methods.

Evaluating the biodegradability of materials such as leather and textiles, is fast becoming a notable objective in a company’s product development and sustainability strategy.  There is increasing demand for manufacturers, brands and retailers to reduce the environmental footprint of materials and control waste streams within the supply chain.  As the industry continually innovates to find new ways to meet these demands, the need for biodegradable materials has become very much in the public eye.

So, how can the biodegradability of a product or material be established?

Firstly, it will depend on the structure of the material.  Untreated natural fabrics such as cotton, hemp, linen or bamboo will often decompose more easily than synthetic textiles. Due to their structure, synthetic fabrics like nylon, acrylic and Lycra will naturally take more time to biodegrade.  

Secondly, the biodegradability of textiles and leather is altered according to the chemistry which is added/used during the manufacture of the material. If during the product lifecycle, chemistry is used to change the composition of the material (regardless of whether the material started off as a natural or synthetic fibre), the ability to degrade can be changed.

One final factor in establishing how a product will degrade, is the environment they are placed in at its end of life. Various matrices could serve as an end point material including, soil, compost, landfill and even aqueous based environments. The conditions of the environment including matrix composition and temperature will also influence the rate at which a product will breakdown.  Varying levels of microorganisms including bacteria and fungi will impact the time it takes for biodegradation to take place. Also, materials (depending on the type of chemistry used in the production process) will likely degrade more quickly in a commercial composting facility where optimal processes are utilised to accelerate biodegradation.

However, for a product to breakdown and decompose fully into the surrounding environment, both disintegration and biodegradation must take place. Disintegration is the physical process of the breakdown of the material, whereas biodegradability is the breakdown of the product back into fundamental components such as water, biomass and gas through a chemical reaction. During biodegradability testing the evolution of CO2 or O2 are measured to determine the rate of biodegradation.

Establishing how a product or material disintegrates and biodegrades, is achievable through testing; leather, textiles and plastics can all be tested. Disintegration and Biodegradability testing can be used to support product claims and leather can now be tested using the test methods ISO 20200 (modified for leather) and ISO 20136.

ISO 20200 Disintegration testing can be used to evaluate materials for their propensity to disintegrate in a compost environment. Further analysis of the compost, after testing, can be performed to evaluate the toxicity of the degraded product (EcoTox testing) and plant response testing can assist with understanding the environmental impact on the resulting compost.

ISO 20136 Biodegradability testing will allow you to evaluate whether your product can completely breakdown to a state to resemble the natural environment. This form of testing measures the ability of a product to degrade by microorganisms where a measure of CO2 produced is used to assess the extent of biodegradation. A control is run alongside tested materials to give an indication of whether the material tested can be classed as readily biodegradable.

Undertaking both Disintegration and Biodegradability testing is the gold standard for claiming that your material can fully degrade at the end of its life cycle and understanding the differences between disintegration and biodegradability is a key factor within this process.



Eurofins | BLC consultancy team can work with you on disintegration and biodegradability testing for your product.

Test Methods available include: 

  • ISO 20200
  • ISO 20200 (Modified for Leather)
  • ISO 20200 Supplementary Testing
  • EcoTox Testing
  • Plant Response Testing and Weed Tests
  • ISO 20136
  • Matrix: Aqueous -  ISO 14852

The consultancy team can also help with analysing the material makeup of your product, identify the elements that will need to be tested and provide consultancy support throughout the project.

For more information, please contact the team on: [email protected] or +44 1604 679 999.

View Biodegradability Testing Services

10 December 2020

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